Soap: An Analysis in Two Parts

Let’s examine the practical implications of using liquid body wash instead of traditional bar soap.

Advantage: There’s no soap scum runoff down the side of the shower, making it significantly easier to clean.

Disadvantage: There’s a greater risk that on particularly sleepy mornings the soap will be mistaken for shampoo.

(It doesn’t work very well.)

It’s Perfect, As Long as the Mouse Runs in its Cage

After ejecting a DVD from my computer, I accidentally dropped it in the 24 cm gap between my desk and the wall.  While this isn’t good, it’s surely a problem easily solved.

Were this an ordinary DVD, my solution to the problem might have been:

  1. Reach underneath the back wall of the desk
  2. Pick up the DVD

Unfortunately, this was a Mythbusters DVD I’d just finished watching.  In these circumstances, the first solution that actually came to mind was (I swear):

  1. Get a measuring tape
  2. Extend it down to the floor
  3. Hook the metal piece through the hole in the DVD
  4. Gently lift (not retract, but lift) the measuring tape, balancing the DVD precariously on its end
  5. Drop it repeatedly, give up the approach, and then realize the simpler solution outlined above

This show seems to have influenced my desire to build elaborate and largely unnecessary contraptions.

Then matters got worse.  I began this post, and wanted to know the distance of my desk from the wall.  Simple!  I used my hand to bridge most of the gap, and based on Wikipedia’s assertion that an average adult male’s hand is about 19 cm long reasoned that the gap was probably 21 or 22 cm.

Once all that was worked out, it occurred to me I might just use the measuring tape.

I’m somehow reminded of the Simpsons episode Homer the Heretic, where the townspeople find themselves trapped in the church during a blizzard.  When Lisa starts to pray, Bart interrupts her: “Lisa, this is neither the time nor the place!”

Always Talk to Strangers

On the train home, while in the middle of reading a particularly interesting page of my Wired magazine, I overheard this from the woman on the phone next to me:

I should tell him I can’t go – I’m going to a concert.  (pause)  It’s this guy who got started on the Internet.  He did a new song every week for a year – like one called Code Monkey about a programmer.

“Ah ha!” thought I to myself (after the words “every week”).  “I know that guy!”  She was, of course, referring to Jonathan CoultonThat particular song, about a software developer who hates his job and has a crush on the woman at the front desk, inspired any number of YouTube videos (including a group project that represents the “genre” well).

How amazingly fortunate that he’ll be in Boston and that I learned of it from someone else’s phone call on the train!  Of course, the moment I got home I checked his schedule of upcoming shows for details.  He will next be playing on October 24th!  At Whelan’s!  In Dublin, Ireland!  Wait…


I knew I should have interrupted the nice lady’s phone call to ask for details.  Maybe she’s just going to Ireland in a month.

A James by Any Other Name

I stumbled on a wikiHow post titled, “How to Deal With Having a Boy’s Name when You’re a Girl.”

I enjoy particularly step four:

  1. Go back to school with evidence. Bring a page you printed of a name website, stating that your name can be a girl or boys name. Possibly bring a list of female celebrities sharing your name.

I highly doubt that showing up at school with paperwork defending your name is a way to reduce teasing.  Admittedly you’ll be teased a lot less about your name, but now you’ll forever be the girl who brought Internet research to school.  Naming such a celebrity is a great idea, but bringing supporting documentation really won’t help.

The last step may also be ill-advised:

  1. Get advice. Ask your parents, or if you’re too shy, ask the school counselor or an older sibling. Ask how you can cope with people treating you this way.

Your parents created the problem by naming their daughter James.  They may not have the best advice to give on the subject.

The iTunes Clock

iTunes always shows the number of items in a playlist, how long it will last, and its total size.  For small playlists, this is useful to gauge whether it will fit on an iPod, or whether it will last the duration of your upcoming party.  For a large playlist (or the overall “Music” view) the duration estimate can be silly:

1942 items, 4.3 days, 6.38 GB

Except… I started playing Eddie from Ohio’s Fly before I left work on Friday, and never stopped it.  By Monday morning iTunes was nearing the bottom of the playlist, with The Christmas Song, as sung by Sean Hayes of Will and Grace fame on the album NBC Celebrity Christmas.

They’re not kidding about the 4.3 days.

My favorite part is that my “Last Played” dates are totally meaningless now, since a good 1,000 songs were all played this weekend – including those like Karma Chameleon that I don’t really ever want to hear.  My smart playlist of “highly rated songs I haven’t played recently” is going to be useless for a few months.

Neighbor Rules Parole Hearing, Case #8

When my neighbors moved out in April, I submitted a list of demands for their replacements. Now that the building is full of students again, I can evaluate how well my demands have been met.

Demand #8 read: “They must not repeatedly break up with their boyfriends in the hallway outside my door where I can hear every single word. …”

Just after I’d gotten into my pajamas tonight, a student of some kind knocked on my door.  I considered several important facts:

  1. I’ve never met this person
  2. I have no particular desire to meet this person, and certainly not while wearing pajamas
  3. The probability she knocked on the wrong door is about 96%
  4. Answering the door would just be embarrassing (not for me so much as for her), and she was sure to re-read the apartment number at any moment and realize her mistake anyway

I went back to reading my book.

A minute or so passed before I then heard her side of a phone conversation. She was quite upset with whomever she called, and I do not believe it a stretch of the imagination to suppose she had come over to visit her boyfriend after (or during) a fight, hoping to talk in person.  She asked him to please, please just open the door.

At this point it would surely have just made things worse to open the door and suggest she fight with someone in a different apartment, so I stayed planted firmly on my couch and bumped up the volume on Mr. Frédéric Chopin’s Impromptu in C-Sharp Minor.  A minute later:

Hey, which room are you in?  …  (trailing off down the hall)  Oh.  I guess I forgot.

In summary, not only are my neighbors still breaking up (or on the verge of breaking up) in the hallway, they’re now including me in the proceedings.  I feel quite strongly that if I have to break up with someone, it should at an absolute minimum be someone I have met prior to us breaking up.

Update:  A coworker has pointed out that it’s better to break up with someone you’ve never met.  “I just don’t think we should see each other anymore,” says one.  “Okay,” says the other.  “We’ve never seen each other before, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”

Neighbor Rules Parole Hearing: Rule #5

When my neighbors moved out in April, I submitted a list of demands for their replacements. Now that the building is full of students again, I can evaluate how well my demands have been met.

Demand #5 read, “They must not, under any circumstances, set the building on fire again.”

I got this e-mail on Thursday:

To prevent the building fire alarms from activating and leading to the apartment evacuations that we have experienced in the last few days, please keep your front doors closed when smoke forms from over-cooking food.

Although I wasn’t at home during these evacuations, this is an inauspicious way to start the school year.

Maximum Security Shirt Packaging

I readily admit that some packaging is necessary for our economy to function – I’d have a hard time getting a gallon of milk home from the store without a container of some kind – but let’s consider for a moment the packaging that comes with men’s dress shirts:

  1. An outer plastic bag
  2. A sheet of paperboard inside to keep the shirt pleasantly flat
  3. A cylinder of paperboard or plastic in the collar to keep it straight
  4. A bit of plastic in the opening in the collar, covering the topmost button, for no readily apparent reason
  5. Two pins holding the collar in place
  6. Between two and six pins holding other parts of the shirt in place
  7. Between one and three tags affixed to various parts of the shirt with sizing and pricing information (not the label that’s sewn into the shirt, but separate, removable labels)

Not one of these elements serves any practical function.  It all exists to make shirts look presentable in stores.  The cost of that presentation is not only harm to the environment through wasted resources, but also wasted time when buyers have to undo all those elements for every new shirt.

Manufacturers need to eliminate every single packaging element, leaving only the material consumers actually want: a new shirt.

Stores can handle this new arrangement in (at least) two different ways.  The easiest is to put shirts in bins, with samples on display on mannequins, or even pinned up if they want.  Shoppers could then pick out the sizes and colors they want.

Most people would probably say that’s inelegant or low class.  Fine.  “High class” establishments can do what they’ve always done for sweaters, pants, ties, and myriad other forms of sartorial essentials: fold piles of shirts neatly on tables.  Yes, shoppers will mess them up, so the same clerks straightening sweaters will now also need to straighten the shirts.

Such a change would be so easy to implement that tolerating the status quo is irresponsible.